November 15, 2009
November 15, 2009
Maggie Millar has a problem with Deborra-Lee Furness' work. Supported by her movie star husband, Hugh Jackman, Furness has cranked up a campaign to open up overseas adoption for Australian couples. Part of this campaign has been creating National Adoption Awareness Week, which will be running this coming week.
Maggie Millar is an artist and an actor, too, though she never reached the heights of fame of Furness and Jackman. Millar has been a stalwart of Australian theatre and has been praised by critics as warm, lusty and downright brilliant.
One reason, perhaps, for the brilliance of her acting was that she had plenty of practice, even as a little girl. You see, Millar was adopted and she never quite got the knack of being part of her adoptive family. ''All of my relatives were like aliens to me; as I no doubt was to them,'' she says.
It wasn't until many years later, when she read a book by Nancy Verrier, that she finally understood her anguish. Verrier is a US psychotherapist specialising in adoption issues. She is also an adoptive parent.
According to Verrier, the infant and mother are still connected outside the womb - physiologically, psychologically and spiritually. The infant, she says, knows the mother's smell, voice, heartbeat, energy and skin. On adoption, the separation results in a terrible feeling of abandonment that is indelibly printed upon the unconscious mind of the child. The grief of separation is so profound that it causes a searing wound, a primal wound.
It is because of the fear of being abandoned again that adopted children often display two types of behaviour. They will either be provocative, rebellious and angry, or they will become withdrawn, compliant and forever on guard. Sometimes they will display a combination of both behaviours.
Millar says the pain of separation and the subsequent loss of identity is accentuated for inter-country adoptees. ''The statistics around these adoptees are only now coming to light and they are disturbing,'' she says. ''They have much higher rates of suicide and depression than children who are adopted within their own countries. Many of these adoptees go back to their country of origin but even there they do not feel at home, they are dispossessed, their identity stolen.''
Furness' organisation is called Orphan Angels. She has quoted UNICEF figures claiming there are 103 million orphans in the Third World. That number is a misrepresentation. UNICEF defines an orphan as a child who has lost one parent. The true figure for what most of us would regard as orphans is closer to 13 million children, and most of these are living with extended family - in poverty.
Trafficking, kidnapping and exploitation of children and their parents abounds when agencies offer huge sums of money in an impoverished country. Graphic cases of corrupt practices connected to the adoption industry in Ethiopia were exposed by the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program in September.
When Madonna and Angelina pick out babies from orphanages like dolls from a shelf, they are sending a message that children are a commodity. ''Wealthy people have the power and means to buy a child,'' Millar says, ''but the child and her family have little or no power over what is happening to them.'' Adoptees, she says, are the only people suffering from a profound trauma who are supposed to be grateful.
Millar feels for gay or infertile people who long for a child, but she asks them to think of the rights of the child they are adopting. ''Someone else's child is not a cure for infertility. No one is entitled to a child, especially to someone else's child. Adoption should be a last resort and should be done with eyes wide open. Be aware of the consequences … Be educated and be prepared for a long journey. Not all adoptions are unsuccessful but all adoptions take a lot of work.''
Reform of adoption procedures was a hard-won battle resulting in the 1984 Victorian Adoption Act. This gave adoptees access to their records. When the legislation came into force, some 7000 people in Victoria alone queued up, waiting to find out who they were. Now the general benefits of this hard-won battle are being eroded.
The push for inter-country adoption is generally misguided. People who wish to help children of the third world should start by helping them within their own country, their own culture and their own tribe.
Dianne Dempsey is a Melbourne writer. For more information on overseas adoption, visit NancyVerrier.com, Vanish.org.au.